Help save Milwaukie's iconic City Hall building, park
As this newspaper reported in a September article headlined "Milwaukie eyes City Hall move to north," the city plans to vacate its longtime historic home over the next two years, after purchasing a larger building for consolidating city operations. As it turns out, the city owns the current City Hall building and the land immediately below it outright; but the block surrounding the building is subject to a deed restriction requiring it to be maintained as a public park. If this surrounding yard is not maintained as a park, it reverts to the North Clackamas School District.
On Nov. 21, Milwaukie City Manager Ann Ober and Councilor Wilda Parks met before the North Clackamas School Board to discuss removing the deed restriction requiring maintenance of the City Hall yard as a park. A coalition of Milwaukie residents also testified to request that the school district wait before waiving the park-deed restriction — so as to allow the city's public engagement process for "repurposing" the iconic City Hall property to be completed beforehand.
City Manager Ober explained Milwaukie does not have the budget to maintain the longtime City Hall property once it vacates it. One option would be to sell the iconic City Hall building, relieving the city of its maintenance costs, and letting the yard revert to the school district. But what is left out in Ober's presentation is how much, if any, the city is seeking to gain financially from marketing the entire City Hall property without its deed restriction.
The city's purchase of its prospective new building is documented to cost some $6 million. Therefore, the city may have a conflict of interest which may bias it towards a more intense build out of the existing City Hall property. At a minimum, the school district should be supplied a financial scoping study from the city to gauge the financial constraints which might drive an intense development of the City Hall property, resulting in minimal-to-no park grounds in a redeveloped City Hall.
Residents of Milwaukie are rightfully on guard about the school district waiving the park-deed restriction on the City Hall yard. Ober is right when she called the current City Hall property "our most beautiful asset on Main Street." The iconic City Hall was built during the 1930s as one of the Roosevelt Administration's public-works projects. It hearkens back to Milwaukie's small-town roots and sense of evolving community.
A wave of new mixed-used multi-story buildings are currently planned and coming to development in downtown Milwaukie, making it especially important to preserve community roots like the City Hall property. The City Hall park sits right across from the new Ledding Library, and its mature tree coverage provides a welcome shady spot to take refuge with a book on summer days.
Milwaukie residents are encouraged to contact members of the North Clackamas School Board and ask our elected officials to take utmost care in protecting the existing City Hall park.
Elvis Clark is a Milwaukie resident and a retired economist with the Oregon Public Utility Commission.
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